Healthy tips for school lunches

Make your child’s lunch fun and healthy by try­ing these ni­trit­ous tips.

Stu­dents are head­ing back to school, and you prob­ably went to great lengths to en­sure your child has the right equip­ment — pen­cils, pens, note­books, cloth­ing — to make it through the day. Prop­er nu­tri­tion also is a key in­gredi­ent for back-to-school suc­cess be­cause it fuels brain cells and gives your child the en­ergy and nu­tri­ents he or she needs for op­tim­al learn­ing. Pack­ing your child’s lunch lets you know ex­actly what he or she is eat­ing.

Fol­low these tips, and not only will you save money, but you will pack a nu­tri­tious lunch that your child will en­joy: 

—A healthy lunch should con­tain foods from each of the five food groups: car­bo­hydrates, pro­tein, dairy, fruits and ve­get­ables. Choose whole-grain products like bread, tor­til­las, pita bread, ba­gels or whole-grain crack­ers. These are more nu­tri­tious, have more fiber, vit­am­ins and min­er­als, and keep blood sug­ar steady for op­tim­al learn­ing. 

—Se­lect pro­tein foods wisely. Use lean meat like chick­en or tur­key breast, hard-boiled eggs, tuna packed in wa­ter, beans or pea­nut but­ter. Pro­tein in every meal helps keep blood sug­ar steady. 

—For side items, re-think that bag of chips. In­stead, choose car­rots sticks, cel­ery sticks with pea­nut but­ter and rais­ins, apple slices with pea­nut but­ter, fruit salad, whole fruit, rais­ins or pret­zels. 

—For dessert, try whole-grain gra­ham crack­ers, ginger snaps, rais­ins, un­sweetened apple­sauce, homemade muffins or fresh fruit.

—Choose a bever­age that hy­drates, like wa­ter, or choose low-fat or fat-free milk for ad­di­tion­al pro­tein, cal­ci­um and vit­am­in D. Avoid drinks with cal­or­ies and no nu­tri­ents. 

—Choose an in­su­lated bag and freez­er packs to keep food at a safe tem­per­at­ure. In­vest wash­able and re­usable con­tain­ers in a vari­ety of sizes. Avoid us­ing plastic sand­wich bag­gies.

—Buy in bulk. Avoid single-serve pack­aging. You save money when you buy in bulk and pack it your­self in­to single servings. Buy a large con­tain­er of yogurt or pud­ding and use 4-ounce con­tain­ers to pack your own. Buy a block of cheese and cut it in­to cubes or shred it. Buy crack­ers in boxes, rather than in­di­vidu­al pack­ages.

—Make your own sand­wich fillings. Look bey­ond lunch meat. Slice your own meat or grill chick­en breast and cut it in­to strips or cubes. Avoid pre­pack­aged lunches, which are costly. 

—Pack leftovers for lunch. Use meats, ve­g­gies and fruits in sand­wiches and salads. Homemade soup is al­ways a good op­tion. 

—Use fruits and ve­get­ables that are in sea­son. 

—Add some fun touches to the meal. The tra­di­tion­al pea­nut but­ter and jelly sand­wich can be­come pretty bor­ing. Get a couple of cook­ie cut­ters and have kids cut the sand­wich in­to dif­fer­ent shapes. 

—Think bey­ond bread when mak­ing sand­wiches. A good al­tern­at­ive is a whole-wheat pita pock­et with hum­mus, shred­ded ve­get­ables and grilled chick­en strips. ••

(Ad­di­tion­al In­form­a­tion provided by Dam­ar­is Karanja, MA, Nu­tri­tion and Health Edu­ca­tion Spe­cial­ist, St. Louis County, Uni­versity of Mis­souri Ex­ten­sion.)

An­gela Shelf Medear­is is an award-win­ning chil­dren’s au­thor, culin­ary his­tor­i­an and au­thor of sev­en cook­books. Her new cook­book is “The Kit­chen Diva’s Dia­bet­ic Cook­book.” Her Web site is www.di­

You can reach at .

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